November 24, 2014

Medina
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Cavs: Varejao open to LeBron returning

INDEPENDENCE — Anderson Varejao, the only current Cavaliers player who played with LeBron James in Cleveland, wouldn’t mind joining forces with the Akron native again.

“Going back, the way he left was wrong, but regardless, my mind is always open to LeBron (returning),” Varejao said Tuesday at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “He’s a guy who helped me a lot, helped my game and helped me as a person.

Miami's LeBron James makes a drive during a Nov. 20 game against the Orlando Magic. (AP FILE PHOTO)

“I have nothing against him. It could happen.”

James, who spent the first seven years of his NBA career with the Cavs before announcing live on ESPN that he was taking his talents to South Beach, returns to Quicken Loans Arena tonight at 7:30 with the Miami Heat.

The 28-year-old — James will turn 29 on Dec. 30 — will enter The Q as a two-time NBA champion and with four MVP trophies in the last five years, the last two with the Heat.

James, however, is widely expected to opt out of his contract and become a free agent this summer, with Miami and Cleveland considered the favorites to sign him.

James still has a home just outside Akron — the Heat players are having Thanksgiving dinner at his place — but he’s also part of a group looking to buy a soccer team in Miami, which is probably the favorite to land him at the moment.

Of course, a lot could happen between now and July.

“It could happen,” Varejao said. “LeBron’s from Akron. Akron’s not too far from here. Eventually in his career, he probably wants to play at home.”

Cavs coach Mike Brown, his team having lost three straight games and six of its last seven to fall to 4-10, gave mostly one-word answers to questions about James.

“He plays for the Miami Heat right now,” said Brown, who coached James in Cleveland from 2005-10. “He’s done a fantastic job with the Miami Heat.”

That he has, as the Heat reached the NBA Finals in James’ first three seasons in Miami. The Heat (11-3) will enter The Q with a seven-game winning streak overall, and it also has defeated the Cavs seven straight times.

Now in his 11th year in the league and fourth with Miami, James is at the height of his career. The 6-foot-8, 250-pound small forward is averaging 26.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.6 assists while shooting a sizzling .609 from the floor, .488 on 3-pointers and .804 at the line.

Miami has also been getting solid play from veterans Dwayne Wade (18.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 5.7 apg), Chris Bosh (15.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Ray Allen (11.1 ppg), but James is the guy who makes everything go.

“They’re at a point as a unit that we’re hoping to attain someday,” Brown said. “We know we still have a long process of trying to get there in front of us.

“It’s going to be tough. But as best we can, we’ve got to try to keep it simple and compete. At the end of the day, if all else fails with what we’re trying to do, the one thing we want to be able to do in situations like this is walk off the floor and say, ‘I can look myself in the mirror because I know I competed today.’”

There have been numerous occasions over the past three-plus seasons when the Cavs haven’t been able to say that. Since James departed, Cleveland has posted season records of 19-63, 21-45 and 24-58.

In James’ final two seasons in Cleveland, the Cavs won 66 and 61 games in the regular season. In 2008-09, they lost to Orlando in the Eastern Conference finals and in 2009-10 they lost to Boston in the conference semis.

Brown was fired after the latter series, but rehired when Byron Scott was canned after last season.

“I moved on right away,” Varejao said of James’ departure. “There was nothing I could do. … Whatever he did was behind.”

This was supposed to be the season the Cavs showed they could win and would be ready to contend if James rejoined them, but Varejao isn’t worried that the team’s struggles might keep “The King” from returning.

“We’re playing for us here,” he said. “We can’t control that. Whatever happens, happens.”

Come Home LeBron

Josh Raggi, a Walsh Jesuit High graduate who grew up in Cuyahoga Falls and now lives in Pennsylvania, has launched a “Come Home LeBron” campaign that includes a billboard that went up near James’ alma mater, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High, on Monday. The billboard is expected to stay up for four to eight weeks.

In addition, the “Come Home LeBron” group will hand out 2,000 bright green T-shirts outside The Q prior to tonight’s game.

Select company

James has scored in double figures in 509 straight regular-season games, making him one of five players in NBA history to top 500.

Michael Jordan leads with 866, followed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (787), Karl Malone (575) and Moses Malone (526). Abdul-Jabbar also had a streak of 508 games.

Tip-ins

The Heat has played just five road games this season, going 3-2.

• Cavs swingman C.J. Miles went through half of the team’s contact drills Tuesday and is questionable for tonight with a strained calf. If he can’t play, Brown said he will likely start rookie Matthew Dellavedova at shooting guard for the third straight game.

• Brown said Alonzo Gee will start at small forward, where he will draw the assignment of guarding James.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.